OCFF 2018: Life’s a Stage
The 2nd annual Ocean City Film Festival (OCFF) screened the new 45-minute documentary called Life’s a Stage, a profile of Gwen Lehman, the former teacher at Stephen Decatur High School. Lehman retired after 46 years of running the Worcester County school’s theater program. The movie was directed by Annie Danzi, a professor at Frostburg University and a former student of Lehman’s. The documentary follows Lehman during her final year at Stephen Decatur. I spoke with Danzi two weeks ago about the making of her movie.
Danzi graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 1997. She had Lehman all four years. Danzi called Lehman a magical educator who has impacted the lives of thousands of students. Danzi also called Lehman magnetic, hilarious and articulate. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Lehman was her favorite teacher as she was the teacher with whom Danzi kept in touch even 20 years after graduation.
Danzi went on to college and got her Master’s degree, a MFA in Documentary Film from Wake Forest University, but she always maintained contact with Lehman. One day, when the two were having lunch in July 2014, Lehman told Danzi she would be retiring in 2015 and wasn’t sure what would become of her theater program, so Danzi decided to make a movie about that.
She started filming in November 2014. Her students from Frostburg worked as her crew. She got a grant that paid for her and her students to travel from Frostburg to Stephen Decatur High four times. Each time, they filmed Lehman, getting observational footage of her framed around a day in her life, running the theater program and putting together some shows.
Danzi and her students also conducted interviews of administrators at the Worcester County school, as well as alumni and Lehman’s husband. Danzi didn’t want to be interviewed herself, but she was in the class that Lehman had during a crucial moment in the Shakespeare program there, so it was deemed important to also get Danzi on camera.
What is gathered from these interviews and from the movie in general is how important performing arts is in school. What is gathered is how helpful it is in so many areas. Yet, the question of the movie is if Lehman’s art program, her theater program, will continue after her retirement. This movie in some aspects is an argument for it to continue.
One of Lehman’s students is Erica Messer, an executive producer on CBS’ Criminal Minds, but another former student is William Strang-Moya, the founder and organizer of the Ocean City Film Festival. Lehman also attended last year’s inaugural OCFF, so this year’s movie about her playing on OCFF’s first day isn’t a surprise. Reportedly, the movie was a sold-out success. The movie did premiere a week prior at the Frostburg Palace Theater.
Side note: Danzi was an intern at WBOC’s Creative Services in 1999.
For more information about the movie, go to https://www.facebook.com/lifesastagedocumentary/.